Some allude to their preference for at-grade light rail transit without offering specifics, so it’s virtually impossible to critique their ideas for a new piece of transportation infrastructure on Oahu. But it is possible to critique their preferred technology.
At-grade rail’s proponents rarely talk about safety. That’s because the comparison between technologies is stark: Elevated rail completely avoids cross-street and other traffic and therefore is immune to cross-traffic, while at-grade rail is in the traffic mix.
That point was driven home tragically yesterday in Sacramento, CA when the driver of an SUV ignored flashing warning lights and a rail crossing arm and drove into the path of a light-rail train. Two adults and an 18-month-old boy were killed.
The reporter, who’s no longer reporting here, actually wrote the following in a January 31, 2010 story headlined Honolulu rail would be safer at ground level, AIA contends: “On a passenger-mile-basis, street-level rail had fewer reported injury incidents than elevated rail in all but one year between 1998 and 2007, based on FTA data.”
To reach that rationalization, the AIA compared the number of passenger miles in 2007 for systems with an exclusive right of way (12.6 million) and at-grade systems (1.9 billion) and found fewer injury incidents on a per-passenger-mile basis.
The Advertiser story continued: “The AIA cites the relative safety of street-level trains as one reason why the city should consider building portions of the rail line at grade. City officials argue that the added safety of an elevated train is one more justification for the project’s relatively high costs.”
It’s true that exclusive right-of-way systems have experienced accidents and fatalities, including the notorious failure on the Washington, D.C. Metro a few years ago. But that system and Honolulu’s future elevated rail project are dissimilar in at least one significant fact: The Metro has human beings at the controls in both the trains and control room, and Honolulu’s elevated system will be completely computer controlled.
But the biggest distinction between Honolulu's future system and at-grade systems is the lack of interaction between trains and surface vehicles. As the city’s Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka said in January 2010:
Yesterday's tragedy in Sacramento can't be ignored.
This post has been added to our "aggregation" site under the Elevated vs At-Grade heading.